The UK could seize London mansions owned by Russian oligarchs and use them to house Ukrainian refugees, the government has suggested.
Dominic Raab said he backed the idea of appropriating and repurposing Russian property to host those fleeing conflict.
He said the government would legislate to stop “lawfare” -the process of kleptocrats using the courts to try and stop journalists reporting on how they obtained their wealth – and suggested proposals to stop oligarchs hiring expensive law firms to protect their cash were imminent.
“We have seen oligarchs and kleptocrats and those with links to Putin coming into this country and suing under our libel laws those who are shining a light, whether it is authors or NGOs, on corruption and abuse,” he told BBC Breakfast on Friday.
“That is an abuse of our system and I’m going to be putting forward proposals to deal with that and to prevent that. It cannot be right that kleptocrats and those with links to Putin can silence those shining a light on those excesses and use our courts to do so.”
‘We’ll do it’
Michael Gove, the housing secretary, has reportedly drawn up plans to nationalise multi-million pound properties without compensating their Russian owners.
And Raab confirmed on Friday that the government was serious about the plans.
“If we’ve got the evidence and the legal basis, then we’ll do it,” he told LBC. Asked if the mansions could subsequently be used to house Ukrainians, he said: “Yes, absolutely.”
It comes after Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, who has had ties to Arsenal and Everton football clubs, was sanctioned to pile pressure on Putin over his “barbarous” invasion of Ukraine.
A travel ban and full asset freeze was also imposed on former Russian deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov on Thursday evening, taking the total number of oligarchs sanctioned to 15.
Boris Johnson said: “For as long as Putin continues his barbaric attack on innocent Ukrainians we will continue to exert every power we have to inflict maximum economic pain on Putin and his war machine.”
‘Going as quick as we can’
But Roman Abramovich, who says he will sell Chelsea FC, was not among the latest tranche of sanctioned oligarchs.
Government sources conceded it could take “weeks and months” to build legally sound cases against wealthy and litigious targets.
Under pressure to act faster, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will establish an Oligarch Taskforce of ministers and officials from departments including the Home Office, the Treasury and the National Crime Agency to co-ordinate sanctions and build cases against targets.
The move came after a government source acknowledged the time-consuming nature of levelling sanctions at allies of the Putin regime.
“We’re working round-the-clock and going as quick as we can,” the source added, with Truss understood to have tripled the size of the sanctions team in recent months.